By Doug Leier
This is the time of year when North Dakota Game and Fish Department game wardens, biologists and other staff across the state handle an influx of calls about young animals.
From seemingly abandoned deer fawns, to birds that fell from a nest, to a mother duck trying to lead her brood across a crowded city parking lot, people care about North Dakota wildlife and want to do what they can to help when these situations arise. However, the best thing to do in almost all such cases is to simply leave the young animal alone. While that is not always an easy thing to do, it helps to know that an animal has much better odds of surviving long-term in the wild if left alone. That’s not to say that every animal that “appears” to be left alone will survive. But then again, not every young animal that looks like it could use some help needs it.
A common scenario involves young deer. When you find a young deer alone, the does
are typically not with the fawn for a reason. Fawns are well camouflaged, and have the
instinct to lie very still to avoid detection. The doe visits the fawn or fawns to feed them, and then moves off to rest by itself to avoid leading predators to her young. However, when people see a fawn with no other deer around, they often assume it is abandoned, and feel they can help by picking it up and taking it home.
Certainly, there is a chance that the fawn truly is alone and would not likely survive for
very long if left alone. However, human intervention in a case like that almost certainly
means that the animal would never be able to live freely in the wild even if it did survive
to adulthood in captivity.
Another situation is when birds leave their nests. When baby birds fledge, they are
learning to fly and do spend time on the ground. Depending on the species, the
mother, father, or both, will continue to feed the fledgling on the ground. The adult birds
are not always in sight when people are around, and the fledgling appears defenseless.
Leaving young wildlife alone is also the legal course of action. Private individuals cannot
take protected animals from the wild under any circumstances without a permit from the
Game and Fish Department.
In addition, there is also a human safety element. Animals can and do carry
different diseases, ticks, or can bite or scratch. Even animals that appear injured have a better chance of survival if left alone. Many times injured animals die while being captured or while in transit. Not all calls about injured or abandoned animals come into the Game and Fish
Department. Concerned citizens also look to zoos or veterinarians to take in animals.
Zoos and veterinarians, however, also cannot take an animal from the wild without
authorization. In addition, few zoos need local animals like white-tailed deer or cottontail
rabbits, for instance.
Readers of this column know that I love wildlife and the outdoors as much as
anyone. In person, on the phone and via email I’ve connected with many
compassionate people regarding situations with young wildlife, and I understand it’s not
easy to step back from the urge to “help” an animal and let nature take its course.
But in the big picture, that is the best course.
Featured Photo: Look, but don’t touch! The best chance for a young fawn to survive is in the wild without human contact. NDG&F Photo.
Doug Leier is an outreach biologist with the North Dakota Game & Fish Department.